Tonight, the slumping Oklahoma City Thunder look to upend a nine-game San Antonio Spurs win streak from Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Ahead of this evening's matchup, a simple glance at the standings defines each teams' recent backstory. Oklahoma City has dropped four-successive contests to iterations which reside a combined 39 games below .500.
Conversely, San Antonio boasts the NBA's longest present unbeaten run.
As 18 contests remain, these clubs couldn’t be traveling more divergent courses.
Unfortunately for Thunder nation, Oklahoma City’s defense has crumbled following its March 2 setback to Portland.
Since, Billy Donovan’s once pugnacious crew has ceded 115.5 ppg to desperate, yet inferior competition.
Meanwhile, amid mounting losses, Russell Westbrook’s four-game averages have reached 45 ppg, 8.3 rpg, and 6.8 apg —though minus a customary triple-double performance.
And while his supporting cast flounders, no alternative to alleviate Westbrook’s 32.3 FGA’s have materialized.
Albeit, Oklahoma City’s inability to create offense independent of its superstar negates the conceivable idea such an alternative exists.
Where once-enlivened team defense and timely Westbrook baskets propelled OKC ten games above .500, even the six-time All Star’s best cannot overcome an undercurrent that features former-stalwart Steven Adams allowing 118.5 pp100p as Oklahoma City backtracks.
Tonight, it will take the performance of OKC’s season to both halt San Antonio’s run and avenge a 108-94 Jan defeat where Kawhi Leonard (36 pts) and LaMarcus Aldrige (25) had their way.
Although, one ray of hope for the Thunder resides in the fact that Gregg Poppovich’s veteran squad competed last night vs. Sacramento. During the Spurs’ latest win, Manu Ginobili added a team-high 19 points as Leonard and Alrdrige rested.
And as San Antonio’s stars will be fresh vs. OKC, the Spurs’ aged supporting cast may be a bit road weary as Ginobili (rest) and Tony Parker (back) are listed as questionable.
Even so, with all things considered, if Oklahoma City places a strong showing tonight —even in defeat— the Thunder’s stock may rise before Saturday night’s final seasonal meeting vs. Utah.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (35-29 #7 west) vs. SAN ANTONIO SPURS (50-13 #2 west)
- Time: 8 PM ET
- Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena
- TV: TNT
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Give an honest defensive effort: If OKC can slow Leonard and Aldrige, the Thunder’s chances of victory greatly increase. However, arriving at this point begins with a tenacity that has not been present of late from the Thunder.
- Knock down open shots: This sounds simple. However, vs. San Antonio’s smothering defense such an undertaking becomes exasperating.
- Feed off the crowd/take advantage of a tired Spurs second-unit: Every intangible advantage helps. For what would be OKC’s signature victory of the season to occur, the Thunder must obviously showcase additional grit and winning desire.
- Seek offensive balance, Russ: Though Westbrook’s 39 FGA outing was necessary vs. Portland, perhaps tonight a measured dose of passing/shooting would prove vital for OKC’s cause.
- Bench-help needed: Reserve contributions become a necessity opposite a team as balanced and exacting as San Antonio.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
How quickly fortunes change. Just ten days ago the NBA world raved over Russell Westbrook’s MVP hopes and his team’s overachieving ways. Now, all such sentiment has vanished.
Though tonight may not be the night for OKC to abolish a persistent losing streak, as mentioned, it can become an opportunity to re-establish sound functional habits for the road ahead.
Signs of life from both an ineffective bench and team defense would arouse positive sentiment from Thunder nation. And at this point, a little positive energy would go a long way.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Amid an 18th consecutive 50+ win season, Popovich and the Spurs are a veritable regular-campaign institution. Further, San Antonio (27) boasts more road victories this year than any other NBA grouping.
As the Spurs rank within the league’s top-five in virtually each major statistical category, defeating this systematic juggernaut is a rare accomplishment. An accomplishment achieved only 13 times this season, as SAS rests just 1.5 games back of Golden State for the NBA’s premier record.
Most recently San Antonio flexed its muscle in turning back the excellent Houston Rockets 112-110. Leading-MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard had 39 points that evening.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder have no injuries to report. The San Antonio Spurs list Kyle Anderson (Leg) as out for tonight’s contest. The Spurs are likely to be without Tony Parker (Back) and Manu Ginobili (Rest) as well.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Steven Adams
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
- Point Guard: Patty Mills
- Shooting Guard: Danny Green
- Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard
- Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldrige
- Center: Dwayne Dedmon
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: +3
The Oklahoma City Thunder enters tonight’s contest as a moderate Vegas underdog. And considering the opponent, this estimation is reasonable. As stated, no NBA team holds more road victories this season than San Antonio.
However, perhaps the Spurs’ most impressive stat is the team’s 10-1 record on the second night of a back-to-back set. This does not bode well even for an Oklahoma City iteration which boasts a strong 23-9 home record.
San Antonio (100.7) also ranks #1 league-wide in DefRtg as the Thunder (105.5) has slipped to 12th.
Meanwhile, the Spurs (109.8) rank fifth in OffRtg. Oklahoma City (104.4) is 20th.
Tonight’s key cross-matchup pits Russell Westbrook vs. Kawhi Leonard. It makes logical sense for San Antonio to place the league’s top perimeter defender on OKC’s lone off-dribble scoring threat.
If Leonard frustrates Westbrook, this could be a long night for Thunder basketball. However, Thunder nation will hope for the best, even against long odds.